Compounding disturbance interactions in a Southern Rocky Mountain subalpine forest

Friday, 19 December 2014
Megan Kathleen Caldwell, USGS-GECSC, Lakewood, CO, United States, Carol Adele Wessman, University of Colorado at Boulder, EBIO, Boulder, CO, United States, Brian Buma, University of Alaska Southeast, Forest Ecosystem Ecology, Juneau, AK, United States and Rebecca Poore, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, CO, United States
Landscape disturbances are important shaping agents to ecosystem processes, services and structure. When multiple disturbances occur, they create novel ecosystem trajectories. It is unknown what happens to ecosystem resiliency and services, such as carbon storage, when multiple disturbances occur in a short time period. Routt National Forest, Colorado is a subalpine forest which experienced multiple disturbances including a blowdown (1997), logging (1999-2001), fire (2002) and insects (spruce and pine beetle, multiple years). The objective of this study is to determine recovery patterns post- disturbance as they pertain to resilience and carbon storage. Recovery from a single landscape disturbance for individual species typically have a predictable response. In order to study recovery from multiple disturbances, we measured plots in 2010-2013 across the multiple disturbances. Further, we simulated plots to the year 2113 using the Forest Vegetation Simulator to quantify carbon storage. Our sampling design captured disturbance interactions, where we considered 1. fire, 2. blowdown + fire, with a gradient across blowdown severity, 3. blowdown + logging + fire, 4. beetle-kill, 5. logged + beetle kill, 6. blowdown + beetle kill, 7. logged + blowdown, and 8. control. We counted species, diameter and height of each tree within the 162 (15x15m) square plots. Results between fire and other disturbances varied by individual species. Lodgepole pine regeneration was strongly driven by other disturbances along a severity gradient. Logging prior to fire seems to create varying abiotic conditions, increasing lodgepole seedling density post-fire. Engelmann spruce regeneration was linked to the presence of aspen post-fire + other disturbances, a function of shade provided by aspen. In turn, soil moisture drives aspen regeneration. Incoming aspen seedlings aid carbon storage, recovering to pre-fire between 60-80 years, post disturbance. Upon preliminary analysis, those plots absent of fire, beetle kill impacts not only lodgepole regeneration, but spruce and aspen as well. Once again, abiotic conditions appear to drive regeneration. Carbon does not appear to recover as quickly in the absence of fire. Multiple disturbances in the subalpine compound, impacting ecosystem services and processes well into the future.